It's been a pretty hectic past year or two for ATI. Re-taking the performance graphics crown from an NVIDIA that was having trouble executing (probably due to lag from the XBox launch) and then recently, a concerted effort into the money making midrange sector of consumer graphics with Radeon 9500 and Radeon 9500 Pro.
Combined with some work on their All-In-Wonder series of boards and even a jaunt into the professional workstation space with the FireGL cards, they've been very busy this past while.
Very recently, we've seen them go toe to toe with NVIDIA again with Radeon 9800 Pro, based on their new R350 silicon. R350 gives them a decent evolution over R300 (which is used in 9500 and 9700) with a boost to the shader hardware, some more efficiency when working with the Z buffer and a boost in clock (to keep things simple). It's a product that deserves the praise, given the performance. There's even a 256MB board too for those with a fat framebuffer fetish, which will do battle, for those with deep pockets at least, with NVIDIA's 256MB FX5900 Ultra.
But enough about the super speedy, super expensive section of consumer graphics. Who cares right? What most care about is getting more value for their money. For ATI and this new generation of cards, that means their RV350 core, a cut down version of the R350 core seen in their top end boards. So with the advent of R350 in Radeon 9800, we now have RV350 in their midrange boards and that's what we're looking at today.
Radeon 9600 Pro is the successor to the massively successful (I'm sure that's bad English) 9500 and 9500 Pro products (there doesn't seem to be a plain 9600 this time in terms of support from partners, despite it featuring on ATI's website). They are popular with good reason too. Not too expensive and perfect for the midrange, they bring a full DirectX 9 class acclerator to the masses with good anisotropic filtering and anti aliasing performance, something which the previous midrange performance leader, NVIDIA's GeForce4 Ti4200, couldn't do. Turn on AA or AF on your NV25 and watch performance take a nose dive. What you need is performance to go with your good image quality, and for the most part Radeon 9500 and 9500 Pro delivered.
So what's the difference between 9500 Pro and 9600 Pro silicon wise, and is there any difference between the board layouts?